When it comes to your home, mold is not something you want to mess around with. Even if an issue is minor and harmless, “it’s the kind of word that can make people perceive the house as stigmatized,” says Jim Geracie, a top-selling real estate agent in Brookfield, Wisconsin.
Buyers will be turned off by ugly spores that taint the home’s appearance (and possibly threaten its structural integrity) and worry whether the mold is going to have them coughing and sneezing upon move in.
So unless you want to take a price hit or go through a string of buyers who ultimately walk away from the deal, selling your house with mold will require that you address the issue head on and leave no stone (moldy or otherwise) unturned in fixing the problem.
By following these 8 tips from experts in mold remediation and real estate, you can take your best shot at salvaging the deal while still getting the money you’d hoped for.
1. Know when to get a mold inspection or skip straight to remediation.
HomeLight spoke with Jay Van Deusen, owner of Rainbow International of Northeast Maryland, a company that does mold removal and remediation in addition to other services for damaged properties, to take some of the mystery out of what exactly mold is.
He explained that mold—a “naturally occurring microscopic fungi”—isn’t always hazardous, even though people will commonly assume it poses a health threat.
“The most common misconception about mold is that all mold is dangerous to you in any quantity or type,” Van Deusen said. “Mold is all around us and has been for centuries. It is part of the natural process that allows animal and plants and other natural materials to decay and be consumed.
“However, mold in the wrong place, in larger quantity and of a type that can prove hazardous to humans is not good. Those conditions allowing the mold to flourish need to be eliminated, and the mold remediated.”
There are many types of mold, but only three main classifications for them: pathogenic, toxic, and allergenic.
- Pathogenic can cause serious infections, because it affects both weak and strong immune systems.
- Allergenic is not severely harmful in small quantities but can trigger allergies in people who are susceptible and cause symptoms for those with asthma.
- Toxigenic mold refers to a batch that has mycotoxin, which is what makes it harmful to a person’s health.
So, mold can show up in different sizes, shapes, and colors. Some of it’s toxic, some of it isn’t.
But the important thing to remember is that if you can see visible mold, there’s no reason to spend the time or money on getting a mold inspection—you already know it’s present.
In these cases, you can simply skip to the cleanup stage, either by cleaning it up yourself (only for very small infestations—more on this below) or calling in a mold remediation company.
You may hear about mold testing as an option, in which a company will swab the mold and test it to find out the specific strain. The EPA does not recommend doing this “if visible mold growth is present”, as there are no federal standards set for mold or mold spores; what’s more, no matter what type of mold is present, you’ll need to clean it up.
However, a mold inspection is a smart move if you suspect mold, whether by smell or due to recent moisture intrusion, but you cannot see it.
According to the EPA, however, relying on smell or allergic symptoms is not a great strategy for detecting mold, as many people are unaffected by either.
A more reliable indicator of potential mold is recent water damage or plumbing leaks. Since mold needs moisture to grow, it’s common when there’s a roof leak, crawlspace or basement flooding, high humidity in places like bathrooms or laundry rooms, or an ongoing pipe leak.
If you know you’ve had substantial water damage or leaks, it will almost certainly be to your benefit to obtain a mold inspection before putting your house on the market.
2. Keep your DIY mold cleanup efforts to a 10 square foot area. Anything bigger? Call in a pro.
You’re gearing up to sell your home when you spot them: Those little black spots that creep up the wall behind your water heater, line your basement windowsill, or colonize the area behind your washing machine.
It may be tempting to remove mold on your own, for budgetary or for other reasons, but you should only make this attempt if the affected area is smaller than 10 square feet.
But DIY cleanup is typically not a long-term solution. This is because cleaning up mold, whether with bleach or another gentler solution, will only handle the mold growth—not the spores. After the area builds up a resistance to the homemade mixture, the mold will drink up any water you are feeding it.
Mold has a defensive reaction to remediation, says Van Deusen, where it starts sending spores out when it is removed, leading to cross-contamination.
With larger jobs, the potential for cross contamination and contamination is serious. Therefore, removal is not recommended for amateurs. Removing mold is often a labor-intensive process, especially when the infestation affects the structural materials.
Additionally, having someone qualified to remediate the mold will save you money in the long run; ensuring someone will do the job correctly to preserve structural integrity.
If removed incorrectly, mold infestation can grow and become a very expensive project. Aside from the financial impact, the negative health effects increase significantly when cross-contamination occurs.
3. Don’t assume you’re in the clear until after the home inspection.
Since mold often grows in attics and crawl spaces, if you don’t check those areas out regularly, you may have no idea you have a mold problem until it shows up on the buyer’s home inspection report.
“Most of these things rear their ugly heads during the home inspection phase, when someone is going into the attic or basement, or crawl space,” says Geracie. “A section will look blackened or darkened, and you can see that mold is starting to grow.”
If mold is detected, the buyer will most likely request remediation. Usually it makes much more sense to go ahead and fix the problem, rather than fight it.
“At that point, we get someone in who’s certified in mold remediation, and they do whatever it is they have to do,” Geracie says. “Because if we lose this buyer, the next buyer is going to ask for the same thing, and probably offer a lower price.”
4. Always disclose known mold issues to buyers.
No matter how big or small your mold problem, and whether or not it’s been remediated yet, you should always disclose mold using the proper disclosure forms (you can consult HomeLight’s list of forms for all 50 states).
The reason is that if your buyer discovers a mold problem that you knew about, but did not disclose, their backing out of the sale could be the least of your problems.
“Disclose everything, because the reality is that a buyer will buy a home with problems if they know about them on the front end,” Geracie says.
“If they find out after the fact and feel like they’ve been lied to, they usually like to talk about the lack of disclosure behind an attorney in court.”
This is one of the many reasons it’s important to use an experienced real estate agent. An agent’s guidance can help prevent any inadvertent lack of disclosure on the seller’s part, and ensure that any disclosures are made properly.
5. Document any mold you find and the steps you take to remediate it.
Speaking of disclosures, it’s in your best interest to document any problems you’re aware of and the steps you’ve taken to fix them. That applies to mold just as it would to a leaky roof or termite infestation.
Proper documentation could include:
- Photos of the mold infestation prior to any cleaning or remediation
- Written documentation of any steps you took yourself to clean it up (through using a bleach solution, for example)
- Reports and receipts from the mold remediation company you used
- Ongoing efforts to dry out the area, such as using a dehumidifier
Since each state has their own rules on disclosures, a real estate agent will be able to guide you through your state’s disclosure process and requirements. You can also find out what forms and documentation are needed by visiting your state’s Department of Real Estate website.
6. Make sure the mold remediation company you choose has the proper certifications.
Selling a home with mold is a lot easier once you have certification from a reputable remediation contractor, so you must choose wisely.
Don’t be afraid to ask how a remediation company disposes of waste materials, if they’re insured, how they document their work, and what their opinion is regarding mold being a health hazard for a fuller idea of hiring potential. Van Deusen says that it is also important to look for credentials:
“Any remediation contractor should at minimum have IICRC (Institute of Inspection Certification and Restoration Certification credentials,” says Van Deusen.
He states that it is important for the remediation expert to have environmental insurance coverage, because it provides liability insurance in case contamination occurs during remediation.
Regular contractor liability insurance doesn’t cover environmental contamination, which is the category for mold. He points out that typical homeowner’s insurance policy doesn’t cover that type of contamination either.
Consult the Restoration Industry Association, a nonprofit trade group dedicated to promoting best practices in the restoration field, for more information on finding a credible remediation contractor.
7. Alternatively, consider offering a credit to the buyer for mold prevention services.
If you don’t want to take the time to handle mold remediation yourself, another option is to credit the buyer for the cost of the remediation.
As top-performing Columbus, Ohio agent Brandon Prewitt says when discussing repair credits, credits can be a better way to handle repairs. “We want the buyer to know that the work will be done to their satisfaction, with a contractor they trust.”
Credits also negate the possibility that a buyer will be dissatisfied with the mold remediation you paid for.
8. Prevent mold growth throughout closing and in your new residence moving forward.
Even if you are selling a home with a mold problem, it can help to have an idea on how to avoid it in the future and make sure you’re not creating any additional problems before closing.
After the removal is complete, keeping the house as dry and well-ventilated as possible is the best line of defense. Using dehumidifiers, fans, and open windows, you can significantly reduce moisture in the home.
Additionally, Van Deusen says it helps to ask why the mold started in the first place, to avoid repeat infestation.
“If you remove the SMG (suspected microbial growth) and you don’t remove or alter the conditions that allowed it to propagate, it will come back. Mold loves heat, humidity and good food source. Some of its favorite meals are wallpaper paste and the glue that holds drywall paper to the gypsum behind it. Add in the humidity over 60% and temperatures over 50 degrees, it’s an SMG paradise.”
Selling a home with mold can present certain challenges, but if you take the right steps to identify, remediate, and above all, disclose the problem, you’ll be on your way to a smooth home closing.
Header Image Source: (Burdun Iliya/ Shutterstock)